Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Suck it social media.

Over the weekend we had a family debate on Instagram. My friend Kate had the idea for the kids to argue our perspective and for the grown ups to argue the kids' perspective. Lucia's and her friend Oona argued against Instagram and Oona's parents Kate and Rupert and I argued for Instagram. Nancy, my partner and a lawyer organized the structure and acted as Chief Justice. My mother, Oona's little sister Bea and her friend Maya acted as the other justices on the bench.

It was a great opportunity for all of us to learn the other side of the story and build some empathy and understanding about how it feels to be a kid or a parent in the world of social media.

As the plaintiffs, Kate, Rupert and I (dressed like British Barristers) opened the proceedings with why Instagram should be granted. Then Oona and Lucia (dressed up like me and Kate) argued against it. The debate, scheduled to last about twenty minutes, lasted an hour-and-a-half.  Lucia and Oona argued well, ultimately winning the debate. Their arguments against Instagram and social media in general were compelling. The girls' main points against social media (Instagram specifically) were:

  • The negative elements of FOMO (fear of missing out)
  • The things posted on social media are not real; they are exaggerated, touched up and fake.
  • The occurrence of Anxiety and Depression with social media
  • Harassment on social media
  • The danger of child predators.
The parental arguments for Instagram were:

  • We're in the social media age and kids need to be exposed at some point; it's better to be exposed in the safety of their families instead of waiting until college when there is no support.
  • We also argued that giving kids Instagram provided opportunities for creativity and new community connections.

One of the most convincing arguments presented by Oona and Lucia was the idea that Instagram allows people to be indirect and this indirectness can really hurt people's feelings; it can contribute to anxiety, isolation and depression. Texting, calling on the phone or saying something to someone directly, they contended, are all better ways to communicate than a public forum where misinterpretation and group think are rampant.

Ultimately the girls won the trial. There arguments against Instagram convinced the judges that the app comes with significant risks and pitfalls. But the judges also decided that Oona and Lucia should both get Instagram accounts with certain parameters.

My personal experience having a professional Instagram profile has been complicated. When I look at other yoga teacher posts I invariably feel like I'm not doing enough, like I'm not creative or captivating or cool. But my mental health isn't compromised. I don't feel like anyone says anything unkind or cruel or excluding like what happens with middle school Instagram.

I share all of this in the midst of another social media experience I am having with a public forum that rates businesses. Recently I got a complaint about something at the studio. I immediately wrote the complainant back and committed to looking into her issue. I then granted this person a full refund, comped her a class and apologized for the inconvenience.  I invited her to call me directly and talk about her experience. A few days later one of our teachers noticed a review on the business rating page and let me know.

I was surprised by the review as I'd reached out to the reviewer just days before offering a remedy to the problem. I wondered why she felt the need to write publicly instead of contact me directly, especially after we'd exchanged several emails and I offered her a refund and free class in addition.  Why did she go public instead of calling me, connecting with me?

It got me thinking about Oona and Lucia's presentation of the pitfalls of Instagram. It's easy to be upset, to judge, to exclude when there's no direct contact, but is it satisfying? Does it make the individual who posts happier? I don't post on business review sites but I do regularly send emails to businesses where I have a good experience or a bad one. I'm old school. I believe that people generally mean well, even if I have a bad experience in their establishment. Mistakes happen. People have bad days. But most people are good and deserve a chance to be better. I want them to know directly, so I tell them.

I get it. Social media is the way of the modern world. We connect through it. We learn through it. But we are still human with hearts and minds and feelings and thoughts. As a parent I struggle to help my child navigate through this morass or messaging, posting, rating. I understand from my Instagram trial prep why people use social media, even why they love it.

As my daughter moves into this brave new world, I will encourage her to remember kindness, to practice forgiveness, to be open-hearted and assume best intentions. I know she'll be hurt, rejected, anxious and sad at different times because of what happens on Instagram. She'll have to find a way to shake that stuff off, to let it go. Like all of us, Lucia will also have conflict and feel hard feelings with actual humans face to face. But in those cases, she'll also be able to look the other person in the eyes, to listen, to offer or receive (or both) an apology, to get some kind closure.

As as I fumble my own way through the jungles of social media, I can see that I too will experience hurt, rejection, anxiety and sadness from social media.  I'm bummed about the interaction I had with the student who chose to use a public forum to talk about her experience at The SweatBox instead of reconciling with me directly which would have given us both a chance to feel closure, maybe even contentment. But that didn't happen so just like Lucia will have to do with negative experiences on Instagram, I'm letting this experience go. I'm shaking it off and moving on.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Pink Ladies

When I was in high school, I hung out with a posse of girls. We called ourselves the Pink Ladies. I'm not sure why we called ourselves that. It was an obvious shout out to the bad asses from Grease, but we weren't bad ass like that. I'm pretty sure our Pink Ladies title came from a service project that we did with our Geometry teacher Mrs. Putnam.

The Pink Ladies are all turning 50 this year. It's special, to be fifty. It's a milestone and an accomplishment. Most people in my life in Seattle have only known me as an adult. Sure I've changed over the thirty years I've lived here, but the Pink Ladies knew me when... When I was shy, awkward, scrawny and scared. And I knew them in their myriad adolescent versions. Now we're turning fifty and we're grown up. We're worldly and wise. The first one to cross the half-century line was Judy. Judy and I both live in Seattle. To surprise Judy for her fiftieth, I invited the Pink Ladies out to Seattle to celebrate with  her. Of the five I invited, three were able to come--- two from Wisconsin and one (my twin sister) from California.

The surprise for Judy involved an elaborate production involving my daughter's emoji masks, flashing bike lights, and my back patio. Once the Pink Ladies were revealed to Judy, we proceeded to spend a high school inspired weekend together. We all slept at my house like a big slumber party. We went out to dinner and shared one pair of readers to order our meals. We stayed up late talking and snapping photos of each other doing ridiculous things. Each of our odd little habits dating back thirty-five years showed up at different times only now instead of getting irritated, we'd chuckle with each other about how some things never change.

They all (except Judy) left yesterday morning. I left for work before they headed to the airport and when I got home I found little remnants of their morning--- coffee and tea cups, dirty bedding and borrowed pajamas piled in a heap in the basement, a left toothbrush, a half-eaten banana, thank you gifts. As I straightened up and did load after load of laundry, I was filled with gratitude for having this time with the Pink Ladies. We've known each other for practically our whole lives. We got our periods in each other's bathrooms. We lost our virginity in each other's basements. We went on vacation with each other's families. We stole our first beers from our parents' kitchens. We survived adolescence together. And since that era, each of us has lived many little lifetimes. We've married, divorced, had kids, had breakdowns, breakthroughs, gained weight, lost weight, gone gray, covered it up. We've had multiple careers and achieved countless degrees. We've lived in cities all over the world.

I didn't know what to expect, bringing us all together like this. I hoped. I planned. I anticipated. But I didn't know, couldn't have possibly imagined the power of history showing up like it did. I had no idea that the legacy of the Pink Ladies could live in each of us all these years and reawaken with such ease, as if no time at all had passed.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Yoga as Science

Last week we had Lucia's seventh grade school conference. Lucia is getting an A in every class, including science.  But when I ask Lucia what she's studying or how it's going in science, she tells me that the classroom is totally out of control, that she's not learning anything and she can't describe what aspect of physical science her class is working on. I asked how in the world she's getting an A and she said that she retakes every test and redoes every homework. She does this during her lunch period when she should be farting around with her friends and getting a break.

When I expressed concern to her science teacher in an email, the teacher replied, "It's tough. I have 34 students and I do a lot of classroom management. Lucia is actually one of the really good students."
"But she's not interested in science." I wrote back. "She can't tell me what she's studying in science. and the only reason she's one of the 'good' students is because she spends all of her spare time redoing the works and she still isn't getting it."
The conversation hit a stand still and I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do next.

I'm proud of Lucia for getting straight As. But I could give a rat's ass that she's getting straight As if she's not learning anything. For girls, 7th grade is the time when they are most likely to abandon math and science, to proclaim that they aren't good at it, to eliminate it from their list of future career options. We have a book about women in science, women who changed the world with their discoveries----Marie Curie, Barbara McClintock, Shirley Ann Jackson, Rachel Carson. I'm bummed about Lucia's experience with science this year. Instead of being part of an environment where she is becoming curious, asking questions, uncovering mysteries, she is doing grunt memorization and busy work and dealing with a handful of kids who mess around during science instead of lunch.

We live in a culture that looks at the end product. What are your grades? What does your body look like at the end of your diet or exercise regime? What kind of house did your big job allow you to buy? Because yoga has become so commonplace and many people put it in the category of "working out," there's a risk that we can get caught up in this idea of achieving a final result with our yoga practice.

Yoga is a lifetime process. It is about finding ourselves through exploration. We do this through postures, through breath, through chanting and meditation. Some of us do all of this, others only pieces. It doesn't matter what you choose to be part of your practice. It matters that you practice. You do what works for you. It's easy to get caught up in the end product--- what your triangle posture looks like or how long you can balance in standing bow pose. But that's not the point. The point is to investigate and be curious about the process of your practice. Just like science. What happens if you don't practice in your favorite spot this morning? What would if feel like to take a totally different class than you usually take tomorrow? Would the world collapse if you gave that teacher you didn't like another try? Yoga is like a science project. Stepping onto your mat is stepping into the unknown. It's a time to abandon assumptions and expectations, to become curious about potential discoveries, to uncover information that could change your world.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Finding your own path

I just came back from my first trip to India. I've been wanting to visit India for a long time but I always got overwhelmed when the idea of planning a trip there came up. India is so big. There are so many people and languages. Then this year one of my teachers invited me to go with her to see her guru.

She asked me during a class I was taking with her over the summer. "Do you want to go to India?" she said, very casually. I said, "I've always wanted to go to India....." but I didn't commit at that moment. I said, "I'll have to think about it." But I knew when she asked me that I'd go. I knew in my gut and with every cell in my body. 

I trust this teacher implicitly and, while I'm still trying to figure out if I have a guru (or multiple gurus), if I were to commit to one, she would be at the top of the list. 

We went to my teacher's guru's Ashram near Vellore in the south of India. My eight days at the Ashram were some of the most colorful, energetic, spiritually rich days of my life. It would take me hours and days to document the different rituals and ceremonies I was privileged to be a part of; and because I was technology free, I have no photos of any of my experiences in these sacred places. It's all in my mind, in my own private little memory vault of life experiences. It feels right that I can only relive these moments in my own mind, free from any outside lens of my own or anyone else.

While we were in India, I had a momentary crisis of faith and I confided in my teacher that I was struggling. In the midst of such intense devotion around me, was my spiritual expression enough? Why did my spiritual path look so different from so many of the people around me? 

My teacher looked at me with complete acceptance, openness, and said, "Laura, you have to do what works for you." She gestured with her hand in a circle across all of the devotees sitting near us, "this path is healing for me. I have my own story and you have yours. You have to follow the path that is healing for you."

It was as if a giant blister had been popped. I felt utter relief, a visceral release, to have confided in my teacher, to have been honest and clear about who I was and what I was thinking. For the rest of my time in India I did my own spiritual practices within the other ceremonies and rituals at the Ashram. In making them mine, I was able to connect with myself, and I was able to connect with the people around me. I was on my spiritual path, riding alongside all these other people, all of them on their own paths. It felt real and good and deep. I'm counting the days until I can go back to India.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Timing is Everything

I'm leaving for my first trip to India in about 46 hours. I've been desperately, painfully anxious about leaving--- my family, the studio, my familiar daily habits. It's pretty obvious that I'm sort of losing it. Last night my friend (and student, and teacher) Erika emailed me a podcast that she thought might be of value during this tumultuous emotional time. The podcast, by Tara Brach, is called Remembering and Choosing Loving Presence.

This morning I had to drop my car off on Beacon Hill to get new brakes. I decided to walk to work and use this bonus time to listen to the podcast. I love walking and relished the rain free morning to be in the city. It was commuting time and the hustle and bustle was alive and well all around-- the buses, light rail commuters, the kids going to school. One of the things I've made a personal commitment to do in the last few years is to look at as many strangers as I can in the eyes-- to smile or say hi, to just make contact and feel like the world is still small enough that we see each other individually.

As I got to the bottom of Fourteenth Avenue to the base of the Jose Rizal Bridge, I noticed someone walking much faster than I was coming from behind to pass me. I turned to see his face and looked into his eyes and smiled. In reply, he said, "You nasty ass tramp......" (I couldn't hear the rest over my ear buds once he passed in front of me).

I was surprised, hurt, and a little bit scared. This comment came at the exact time that Tara Brach was guiding her listeners to contemplate how we want people to see us in the world. I got to a crosswalk just after the man passed and, though it was against the side of the street I would eventually need to be on, opted to wait for the light and cross the street. I needed to symbolically cross away from that sentiment in my life.

The timing of this was profound. I continued walking up Twelfth and felt some of my joy returning. The colors of the International District, the smells, the murals on the street cars and dragons hanging from the electrical poles all brought me back to that urban wonder I love so much. The podcast continued on about opening up, allowing for loving presence in our lives, not grasping for what we don't have, making space for what it here now.

As I got closer to work I felt good. The man who called me a tramp was just a glimmer. I stopped at Stumptown Coffee to get a tea. When I got to the front of the line and prepared to pay, the barista said, "Your drink is on Cole today." Cole, at the other end of the coffee bar is a regular SweatBox student. His generosity smiled on my whole being with that complimentary cup of tea and I felt like everything was going to be okay. I'm going to India and all will be well.

Sunday, January 14, 2018


Lucia has been wanting Instagram since she got a phone for her twelfth birthday. Now she's thirteen-and-a-half. I've known for a long time that eventually I will say yes to her request. Last night while shopping at Nordstrom Rack for sports bras, she asked me again if she could get Instagram. "Yes," I said. Her eyes bulged in excitement. "But," I continued, "give me a little time to think about it."

"To come up with a contract?" she asked.

"Yes." I said, "I want to think more about why I'm resisting it and make a plan with you about how and why to use it."

"Can I write you an essay?" Lucia shot back. "I want to write you an essay about why I want it."

"That would be perfect." I said, so relieved for this solution and temporary stay on the inevitable Instagram activation. Lucia is a great writer and fantastic arguer. I hope debate and/or a career in law are in her future because then her arguments will be against other people and not me. Expecting a more typical teenage rant about what an uptight mom I am, I was pleasantly surprised by Lucia's response. She's been patient. Most of her friends have Instagram and/or SnapChat or other social media. I get why she wants it, but I also get how it is the path of no return and I want to step really thoughtfully onto that path.

I use Instagram and FaceBook for marketing for the yoga studio and even as a business persona, it makes me incredibly insecure and I often feel inadequate after a scroll through those sites. The other day I told my partner Nancy that I think I want to have another career. "The yoga industry is too competitive," I whined. "I don't want to be in this game."

"You've been on social media" Nancy half-questioned/half-stated. "Don't do that Laura. It's really bad for you."

She was right. I had been on Instagram scrolling through all of the incredibly creative retreats and classes and videos that people in Yoga Land were promoting and it made me feel like a little old raisin in a rocking chair with zero cool factor. I am grateful for Nancy's reminder. It snapped me out of that tailspin and I remembered who I was. I am in this business because I love yoga. I love my community. I love my job. That's real. Instagram isn't.

So as I embark on this conversation about Instagram for Lucia, what do I want her to know?

  • Instagram isn't real. It's like a video game and an art project. People are creating ideas, constructing future worlds, managing images. 
  • Instagram isn't you. It's a veil of a part of you, but it's not your authentic self. It's the outfit you wear for going to a specific party or restaurant or play. It's not your cozies that you put on when you're hanging at home with your bestie. 
  • Instagram doesn't endure. It's short lived and fleeting. It doesn't help to build your character or internal compass as you move into adulthood. It doesn't remind you when you're acting petty or immature. It doesn't guide you on a path towards a creative, inspiring career or relationship. You get that from your friends, your family, not from your followers.

As I work through all of these things about Instagram I want to share with Lucia, I'm keenly aware of how relevant they are for me. I'm going to say yes to Instagram and it will be soon. I'm scared and I'm worried, but it will happen. My hope is that Lucia will be able to play and have fun with Instagram, to feel like she's a part of the big video game of life, but that she will also keep in mind what is good and true about herself, that she will always have people in her life who remind her what is real.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Tell More Stories

This New Year's Eve I spent with my family and another family-- four adults, two teens and a ten-year-old. Our dinner of black-eyed-peas and collards was the perfect meal after a long day of skiing. After dinner we all wrote down things we wanted to purge in 2018-- grudges, bad habits, dysfunctional patterns. The plan was to share these with our little community so we could have support in letting go of these things and staying on course in the new year. The final action would be burning papers in the fire pit on the front patio of our rental house.

In addition to the things we wanted to let go of, we also wrote down things we wanted to do more of in 2018. Among mine were eating less sugar and assuming best intentions of people in my life. Bea, the ten-year-old, wrote, "Tell more stories." This struck me as profound for many reasons. What does that mean? To tell more stories. Is it to share what happened at school during dinner with the family? Is it making up a fairy tale before bedtime?

Bea is a very articulate, incredibly creative ten-year-old and she tells amazing stories. I've tried to remember myself at that age, in the era of much less technology, a time when we spent so much more time talking to each other than talking to our phones and laptops. Sometimes before bed my daughter Lucia will ask me to tell a story of my childhood and I struggle to conjure one. I have a hard time recalling in detail how I was forty years ago, but I do remember how my sisters and I would make up scenarios all the time: imagining that we were the proprietors of a grocery store or the managers of a hotel, or movie stars or veterinarians or olympic swimmers.

I worry a lot about how technology is changing our world, how it is hindering the creativity and imagination of my child, but maybe I'm worrying unnecessarily. This morning Bea's older sister shared a virtual story of our family ski trip complete with photos, videos and a pop music soundtrack. It's a different kind of story, but it's still a story. It's creative and beautiful and it highlights the wonderful time our families shared.

I remember when my grandmother was 94, trying to explain email to her. I  remember showing her pictures on my laptop seeing the wonder in her face. This year I will turn 50. I got my AARP membership card in the mail yesterday. I'm getting older and the world around me is changing. But there are still stories. We might tell them differently now, but there are still here. There will always be stories to tell.